Perhaps the most poorly-received Apple product launch of the last five years was Apple Maps, the Google Maps competitor that quickly became a late-night punchline after it was released in 2012.
Eventually, the company fired the executive in charge, and Apple CEO Tim Cook was forced to apologise.
The episode still haunts the company, according to a story in Fast Company that includes interviews with Cook, Senior Vice President Eddy Cue, and Senior Vice President Craig Federighi — three of Apple’s most powerful execs.
“We made significant changes to all of our development processes because of it,” Cue said. He now runs Maps.
“We needed to develop competencies that we initially didn’t appreciate,” Federighi, who leads software engineering, told Fast Company.
One of the problems for Apple was that the way it built products was centered around big launch dates — like the release of a new iPhone or version of MacOS.
But internet services like Maps or Siri require a development cycle in which the product is constantly updated and improved — something that Apple didn’t have a lot of experience with. One example of the change: now users can beta-test iPhone and Mac software, which allows Apple to fix bugs before they launch to a billion-strong userbase.
“To all of us living in Cupertino, the maps for here were pretty darn good,” Cue said. “So [the problem] wasn’t obvious to us. We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. Now we do.”
“The most important thing is, Do you have the courage to admit that you’re wrong? And do you change?” Cook told Fast Company.
Obviously, Apple has doubled-down on Maps since then. Apple believes that maps is a “core organising structure” and sees it as a foundation for future products — perhaps a self-driving car — just like it sees its base of installed iPhones.
And Maps never would have had that opportunity to change Apple’s development culture if the company hadn’t been totally embarrassed by the consumer reaction.
“These things mean a lot to us, we work really hard, and so you’re embarrassed. We had completely underestimated the product, the complexity of it,” Cue said.